in spanish class we are talking about freedom and laws and censorship. each unit in the spanish textbook has a different theme, and at the start of every unit, there is a list of questions that the professor asks the class about the theme. she asks us about banned books and the spanish inquisition and civil rights and martin luther king and religion and, “¿has leído los versos satánicos de salman rushdie?” (have you read the satanic verses by salman rushdie?)
as soon as she asks that question, i know i will be the only person in the class who has read it, and i am. after all, i have another rushdie right there in my backpack. “¿alisón?” the professor says, which is not how you spell my name, but that’s how she pronounces it. she asks me what the satanic verses is about and i can’t really explain. then she asks me if i liked it.
“sí, me gusta, pero no lo entiendo mucho porque no sé el koran,” i reply. (yes, i like it, but i don’t understand it much because i don’t know the koran. (in my spanish, everything takes place in the present tense, because i’m not comfortable with el pasado (or el futuro, for that matter))) the professor smiles at me and moves on to another question.
“dork,” chris mutters from the chair next to me.
“i know,” i say. and then we talk about los derechos (rights) for los homosexuales and la inclinación sexual and el heterosexualismo.
in cultural psychology class this guy does a presentation on homosexuality. he tells us that when he was seventeen he was walking down the street holding hands with his boyfriend, and a group of men jumped them, beat them with baseball bats, and stabbed them several times. i pay attention, although during most cultural psych presentations i read the next day’s assigned articles, among them an awful rush limbaugh one about prayer in schools and the limits the constitution places on congress in terms of religion.
the constitution places many limits on congress, i learn in government class. i learn, too, about constitutional amendments and about court cases in history related to civil rights: plessy v. ferguson, brown v. board of education.
i write an essay for cultural psych on an article called “white privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack,” which is about white privilege as a hidden form of el racismo (racism). after i turn it in, someone gets up to present an article on muslims and racial profiling and says, “has anyone read the satanic verses by salman rushdie?”
i don’t like when my classes relate to one another this way. it makes me feel like i’m trapped inside a bad novel, where poignant themes are hurled at me in an attempt to capture my emotions. but these stabs at symbolism are thinly-veiled; they do nothing but insult my intelligence, oversimplify my problems, and cheapen my experience. they do not fool me into thinking that “everything is connected” or “all things have a purpose” or “there are more things in heaven and earth, horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” at this point, the world is about the size of my apartment.
listen, don’t look at me that way, okay? i know i’m in the middle of telling you a story, and i’m stalling. but it’s taking all my energy to cement my face into the only two expressions it has nowadays: lost puppy dog and inscrutable, dead-eyed waitress. once i’ve got the masks on autopilot, i’ll be able to get back to you. until then, i’ll be writing a paper on intolerancia and discriminación.